Easy Pesto Pasta with Chicken is a staple dinner that’s always reliable, delicious, and so simple to make (& make-ahead!).
Have you ever had one of those experiences while eating something new to you and you think (or say out loud), WHY HAVEN’T I BEEN EATING THIS ALL ALONG?? This has been my journey with pesto. Yes, it is quite similar to my experience with Polenta.
Luckily though, I didn’t wait as long to try pesto. There was no reason I wasn’t trying it either – it's just something that was never on our table and something I didn’t even know I SHOULD be trying. I think it was one of those things that my parents might have not liked or didn’t really know how to make it, so we didn’t eat it. Also looking at you, Brussel sprouts.
But I saw fireworks the first time I ever had pesto fresh (this is the key) from an Italian deli. The difference between jarred pesto at your typical supermarket and freshly made pesto is worlds apart. In jarred shelf pesto, you don’t taste the bright fresh basil that hasn’t been frozen or the fresh garlic that is still pungent. The salt and brine of the parmesan also don’t shine through. Jarred pesto is just kind of….blah pale green stuff. You can tell pesto is fresh without even tasting it because it is BRIGHT green.
Needless to say, homemade pesto is versatile. It can be used just like any other sauce. You can double this pesto recipe and save it for another dinner or another use entirely. Pesto also freezes well. Fun tip: freeze leftover pesto in an ice cube tray to easily stir into other dishes.
Pesto really just comes from an Italian word meaning to crush or pestle, but the recipe really doesn’t vary too much. However, there are a few twists I like to do to make this cheaper and lighter.
First, pine nuts are usually the nuts that are used, but they are usually on the more expensive side. So, I like to substitute with walnuts instead which to me taste very similar once ground up. Another substitute in this recipe is that if I can’t find enough basil, I’ll add in 1 cup of spinach to round it all out. This also becomes a flavor that just blends right in. Lastly, I like to half the amount of olive oil typically used which is ½ cup and 955 calories. What I add in is just water! And you would never know its missing.
All that said about pesto, this dish is super simple & comes together in 30 minutes. It’s a great end of summer dinner to make if you grew a lot of basil over the last few months and have no idea what to do with it. It packs a sneaky serving of herbs and spinach while having delicious fresh balls of mozzarella melting throughout. Bon appetit!
AS ALWAYS, IF YOU MAKE THIS – PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW!
Easy Pesto Pasta with Chicken
- 1 lb rigatoni
- ½ cup small fresh mozzarella balls
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Dried oregano 1 tsp
- Dried parsley 1 tsp
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1 cup spinach
- ½ parmesan cheese
- 2 tbsp walnuts
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 3 large garlic cloves
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp water
Boil a medium pot of water over high heat. Add drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook pasta 8-10 minutes. Reserve ¼ cup pasta water. Drain pasta.
Meanwhile, cut chicken into bite-sized chunks. Sprinkle salt, pepper, oregano, and parsley all over the chicken.
Heat a skillet on high heat. When the skillet is hot, spray with nonstick spray and add the chicken. Cook undisturbed on each side for about 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat off.
Make the pesto: in a blender, add 2 cups basil, 1 cup spinach, 1 tsp walnuts, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp ground black pepper, 3 large garlic cloves, ¼ cup olive oil, and 2 tbsp water. Blend on high until consistency is smooth.
Finish the dish by adding the pasta into the chicken skillet. Stir in all of the pesto. Turn the heat back on to low. Once everything heats through, add in the mozzarella balls and stir together. If things seem a little dry, add in the pasta water 1 tbsp at a time and stir together.
You can top this with some grated cheese or remaining fresh basil leaves!